Welcome back to Chef in the Kitchen, a recurring Eater photo feature where we boldly go where few diners have gone before — into Portland restaurant kitchens — to get a sneak peek of the chef du jour hard at work.
Use the whole beast. Chef Aaron Barnett is known for embracing this Portland mantra, and in this aesthetically Cartier-Bresson-inspired resurrection of Chef in the Kitchen, Eater spent an afternoon at Barnett's St. Jack for a good ol' dressing down of a whole duck. The beast is the honorable Moulard duck raised, slaughtered and bled to Barnett's specifications by the folks at Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Oregon.
To make a sausage-stuffed duck neck special, the first thing Barnett does is cut off the neck and break down the bird. Legs and popping of joints follow, along with a precise cut along the center line, where the breastbone is to remove the breast. Once the bird is broken down and the pin feathers dramatically burned off with a blow torch, Barnett proceeds to stuff the sock-like neck with a pork sausage made with with pistachios, port-poached figs, diced onion, various herbs, and sherry jus. He then lightly oils the neck, pops it in the oven and roasts the duck until it's cooked through. Finished with a sear in a hot pan, basted with brown butter garlic and thyme and served over pommes purée, sautéed kale and sauced with a sherry and red wine demi glacé.
According to Barnett, they get six dishes out of a single duck. The legs are salt cured overnight, rinsed dry and then left to rest in a pool of duck fat where they're cooked for 6-8 hours until tender. The fat is then removed and popped in the freezer to later be diced and made into duck crackling. Bones end up in a stock which will become duck consume. One of the few things they don't use on the animal? The esophagus — ironic, considering the rest of the bird will hit one belly or another.
· St. Jack [Official site]
· All Previous Chef in the Kitchen Coverage [Eater PDX]
— Words and images by Dina Avila